Crow Butte Mine

Crow Butte Mine is hoping to expand its operations into the Marsland area, to mine an ore body it says will produce enough uranium to make 600,000 pounds of yellowcake per year.

Record file photo

After more than five years, an expansion application for Crow Butte Uranium Mine at Crawford has moved forward to the public comment stage.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in December published a draft environmental assessment with a finding that the Marsland Expansion requested by Crow Butte will have an overall small impact. Comments on the draft are being accepted until Jan. 29. Copies are available at the libraries in Crawford and Chadron, and will be posted online at www.thechadronnews.com.

Crow Butte applied for the expansion in May 2012, hoping to operate the Marsland site as a satellite facility to its current operations near Crawford. The draft assessment says that the impacts from mining at Marsland will be small, though there is a potential for moderate impacts in terms of noise, ecological resources and water resources. Those more moderate impacts, however, will be localized and temporary, the report says.

“Furthermore, the NRC staff preliminarily finds that cumulative impacts from the proposed action would not be detrimentally significant for all resource areas. There could be primarily beneficial and significant cumulative impacts for the socioeconomics resource area from additional tax revenue, employment and local purchases,” the report’s executive summary reads.

Crow Butte Mine, which is owned by Cameco, started operations in 1986 as a research and development facility and opened commercial operations in 1991. The mine has applied for license expansion permits for the Marsland, North Trend and Three Crows areas, with Marsland expected to be the largest uranium field of the three. The report indicates that Crow Butte believes it will mine enough uranium from the new site to produce an average of 600,000 pounds of yellowcake per year.

As Crow Butte has depleted its reserves, its valuation has fallen to $10.6 million. Its ore reserve values were placed at $75.9 million in 2011 but have fallen sharply since then while its expansion permits have been reviewed.

The North Trend and Three Crow applications, which were filed before the Marsland request and are also still pending, are located closer to the main mine.

The Marsland application says Crow Butte will operate 11 individual mine units at the new site, processing the uranium from the water at a satellite facility and transporting it to the main processing facility at the Crow Butte site.

The Marsland expansion site has an ore body located in the basal sandstone of the Chadron Formation at depths of 800-1,250 feet below the surface. The width of the ore body varies from 1,000-4,000 feet. If approved, the licensed area at Marsland will encompass 4,622 acres. Initial construction and mining will disturb about 590 acres, according to the report, which will include the 11 mine units, the satellite facility, up to six disposal wells and access roads. Future construction for roadways, exploration or delineation drilling, new and expanded mining operations and more could disturb another 1,160 acres.

Crow Butte estimates the life of the mine filed at 20 years, and puts reclamation of the site at completion about 25 years after mining begins.

The report says the wellfields at Marsland will be developed in a similar fashion to those at the company’s main site, and notes that monitoring wells will also be constructed in the extraction zone. Crow Butte plans to use an alkaline solution of sodium bicarbonate lixiviant to mobilize the ore body, which it says will require less chemical addition than an acidic lixiviant and mobilize fewer hazardous elements.

The draft assessment also considered a no-action alternative, noting that if the mine’s expansion applications are not granted, Crow Butte would continue its operations at its main site until its ore reserves are depleted. Should that occur, the report says, groundwater restoration, surface reclamation and decommissioning of the existing facilities is expected to be completed in 2025.

There are 135 private water wells within the proposed license area and area of review, but outside of the defined expansion area. Only 16 are within the license area, and only 10 of those are active water supply wells. None of them draw water from the Basal Chadron Sandstone Formation.

There are five historic period sites within 15 miles of the proposed expansion, though none are closer than seven miles. The NRC also says in the report it launched tribal consultation procedures with 21 tribal governments to determine if there are any historic properties in the region of traditional religious and cultural importance.

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Letters were sent to the tribes in 2012, though the report does indicate that communication with the tribes had “considerable overlap” about the existing Crow Butte license renewal, and the three expansion areas.

Only the Crow Nation and the Santee Sioux Nation elected to conduct field investigations, visiting the main mine, Three Crows and Marsland in 2012. In the Marsland Expansion area, the tribes recorded 12 potential camping areas, stone arrangement sites, a possible human burial place, a possible dance place and a possible buffalo jump. The tribes determined that none of the sites were likely eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Several of the other tribes disagreed with those findings in 2013, but a cultural resource expert sent by the NRC to the sites later that year submitted findings in line with those of the Crow Nation and Santee Sioux Nation.

Public comments may be submitted two ways:

Visit www.regulations.gove and search for Docket ID NRC-2012-0281.

Mail comments to May Ma, Office of Administration, Mail Stop: OWFN-2-A13, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C. 20555-0001.

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